Wednesday, May 23, 2012

2 years after the "Lost" finale, a Retrospective on the series as a whole


Two years ago today, Lost ended with its beautiful series finale, “The End.”  The episode has become controversial since then among pickier fans, but I continue to think it was the best ending Lost could have possibly had.

Lost was an important show to me.  The first TV series I really fell in love with.  It was big.  It was intelligent.  It was mysterious.  It was emotional.  It had one of the greatest ensembles in the history of network television.  It was storytelling at its grandest, and though imperfect, it captivated me for six straight seasons.  I wrote an in-depth analysis of every episode of the final three seasons as they aired, and part of me still misses those days.  Lost helped me hone my writing skills like no other subject before or after, and it will always hold a special place in my heart. 

Today, to mark and celebrate the second anniversary of the show’s anniversary, I’m publishing my in-depth, comprehensive retrospective on all six seasons of Lost, a piece that sums up everything I loved about this show and, in the end, what I feel it all meant.  It was originally published to the Denver Post’s YourHub in two installments, on June 9th and 10th of 2010.

Read “Lost: A Series Retrospective” after the jump…

 LOST
A Series Retrospective
By Jonathan R. Lack

Now that Lost has finished telling its amazing, six-year story, we can finally look back at the series as a whole, rather than in fragmented form as before.  Today, in the last official installment of my weekly “Lost” column, we’re doing just that, taking a walk down memory lane as we examine the six incredible seasons of Lost.  First on the agenda is a review of each individual season; since I started writing about Lost with the fourth season, this is the first time I’ve gone back and shared my in-depth thoughts on the show’s first three years.  Attached to each season are designations of the best episode and the most valuable character of the respective year.  After the season reviews, there are two extra discussions, one of which delves into one of, in my mind, the most important aspects of Lost, and finally, a conclusive bit of series analysis that gets to the heart of what Lost was really all about.

Enjoy...


Season One:

"Lost" Season 1 Poster
Many members of the Lost writing staff, including creator Damon Lindelof, and almost every member of the cast cites the first season as their favorite year of the show, and even watching it again for the third or fourth time, it’s easy to see why, even though I don’t agree with the assessment.  Many television shows struggle out of the gate to find their voice and figure what does and doesn’t work, but Lost knew what it wanted to be and hit the ground running from the opening moments.  Everything we know and love about Lost is on display in the landmark first season......well, except for the time-travelling...and Desmond...and Ben...and all that cool stuff with the Dharma Initiative....well, anyway, you get my point.  Lost grew and evolved, but the first season was remarkably strong from the get go, and even though not every narrative or character moment rang true, I’m not sure how many other TV series can claim this strong of a Freshman season. 

And I know I’m not in the minority when I say that the show’s Pilot episode is the best damn TV Pilot of all time.  From the first moment where Jack opens his eyes to the last moment where Charlie asks “Guys, where are we?” everything about this 2-hour epic is absolutely classic, and entirely spellbinding.  The opening scene, where Jack runs through the wreckage of Oceanic 815, saving people while the chaos builds continuously, is a masterfully tense and thrilling sequence, brilliantly directed by J.J. Abrams.  But that’s not even the best the Pilot has to offer—by the end, we’re introduced to all the major characters (and some minor ones, like Rose) and some of the big mysteries, like the monster, the polar bears, and Rousseau’s cryptic radio message.  All you need to know about Lost is summed up in these first two, entirely perfect hours.

The show kept the momentum going from there, with the rest of the season focused on introducing the audience to the characters and the island, employing the “flashback” narrative device to provide in-depth character development.  The flashbacks sound like a novel concept now, because we’re so used to them, but this was pretty revolutionary when the show started, and allowed for a TV narrative unlike any other.  The island antics never had to slow down or take a break for exposition on who these people were—we saw that first hand in the flashbacks.  By strategically matching character-centric flashback stories to the island narrative, big, often emotional parallels were drawn between the character’s past and present, something few other stories have ever pulled off.  It was the episode Walkabout, where we learned that Locke was in a wheelchair, that really proved the worth of the flashback. 

Plenty of other incredible revelations came from the flashbacks, but the coolest element of this narrative device was that characters who would seem unsympathetic at first, like Sawyer or Jin, were suddenly redeemed once we learned about their past.  I remember hating Sawyer for the first few hours, but when we learned that his dad killed his mom and then committed suicide, with him watching the whole ordeal, I think I actually shed some tears for the guy, and have loved his character ever since.  The same thing happened with Jin—he acted like an oppressive dictator to his wife, Sun, in the first few hours, but then came his flashback story, which showed that Jin was a very good, honest man put in a series of impossible situations by Sun’s evil father.  This effect worked the other way, too—the heroic protagonist, Jack, was revealed to have more demons than anyone bargained for in his dark and troubled relationship with his father.

This is what season one was about—discovery.  For the audience, it was all about discovering the characters, and finding out who they were by watching how they act in the present and learning why they act that way by looking to the past.  Similarly, the narrative thrust of season one is also about discovery, with each week bringing some new mission of exploration for the castaways to go on, be it searching for the crazy French lady, finding water in the caves, or trying to unearth the secrets of the mysterious hatch.

Unlike other seasons of Lost, which have a clearly defined story arc (Season 4, for example, can be summed up with the words “Oceanic Six”), Season 1 is a little more scattershot and episodic, but that’s not in any way a bad thing.  The time for big, complex story arcs had yet to arrive—first, the characters had to be established, and with such a gargantuan cast, it’s a good thing Lost took 25 episodes to do the introductions justice.  By the end of the season, we had a firm grasp on every character, their pasts, and also on the island setting.  With the foundations in place, the writers now had room to grow and advance and tell bigger, more complex stories.  But this part of the tale had to be told first, or else we wouldn’t have an emotional bond with the castaways, and none of the life-or-death scenarios to follow would feel exciting.

For me, the defining moments of season one come near the end, first in the episode Do No Harm, where Boone is bleeding to death after crashing in the beechcraft, and it’s up to Jack to save him.  Meanwhile, Claire has gone into labor, with only Kate and Charlie available to help her.  The convergence of life and death in this episode is absolutely mesmerizing and heartbreaking, and demonstrated the kind of powerful, character-driven emotions Lost was capable of.

Then there’s the finale, Exodus, an excellent conclusion on all counts full of classic moments.  The best, however, is a scene at the very end, right before the hatch gets blown open.  The flashbacks in the episode had been showing how each character got to the airport on the day Oceanic 815 took off, and the final scene of the flashbacks mixes this all together by showing everybody as they board the plane.  The sound drowns out, and all we hear is Michael Giacchino’s beautiful score.  We are reminded, just through the images, how broken these people were before the story ever opened; Kate is in handcuffs, Sawyer is in anguish, Jack is mourning, Locke is bitter and resentful, Walt hates his Dad, etc.  But the swelling, emotional music reminds us that this all happened earlier, and that these people did arrive on the island, and they did become better for the experience.  This scene is all about showing us where we were in relation to where we are, and the difference is astounding.  Nobody travelled through time this season; the others were never seen in person; the Dharma initiative was only hinted at.  And yet, in the sense of character development, Season 1 moved faster and farther than any other year, and this scene, nestled right at the tail end of the finale, makes that point hit home hard.

And then the season ends with the hatch door blowing open, with Locke and Jack peering down into the depths of the shaft.  It’s an astoundingly cool, creepy cliffhanger that ends what is, in my mind, an all around perfect season of television.  The real amazing thing to consider, however, is that Lost would make three even better seasons before the end arrived.

Season Rating: A
Best Episode: Pilot
Season 1 MVP: John Locke

Season Two:

"Lost" Season 2 Poster
After the astounding power of Season 1, Lost hit a bit of a Sophomore slump in Season 2.  This isn’t a bad season—on the contrary, it’s quite good—but it doesn’t live up to the standards of the five seasons surrounding it.  Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have said that, since they didn’t pin down an end date until mid-way through season three, the early years inevitably had some filler to ensure that the writers didn’t run out of story too early.  That’s most apparent in Season 2, which moves a little slower than other years and has a couple of extremely questionable sub-plots. 

Season 1 left audiences with dual cliffhangers—the opening of the hatch and the kidnapping of Walt from the raft.  Wisely, the season opens by answering the first, most prevalent cliffhanger and showing us what waits down inside the hatch.  This opening sequence is my favorite opening to any season of Lost; it’s just brilliant.  We watch Desmond go through his daily routine, thinking that we’re watching someone in an apartment in L.A.  But then the alarm goes off, and slowly, we realize what we’re watching.  I think it’s safe to say that the contents of the hatch are cooler than anyone could have imagined.

The hatch is, far and away, the most successful element of Season 2.  For one, it’s just an amazingly cool set, something fun to look at and a really good stage for some of the action.  But the hatch is also home to plenty of mysteries, including the necessity to “push the button” every 108 minutes.  This serves as the main narrative thrust of the season, with the button serving as a metaphor for faith in the unknown.  Thus, the conflict between Jack and Locke is at its all time best this year, with the Man of Science renouncing the importance of the button and the Man of Faith extolling it.  Eventually, Locke goes through a crisis in his faith, leading to the amazing finale wherein the button isn’t pushed and Desmond is forced to implode the hatch.  The hatch also serves as the hub of action when Henry Gale (read: Benjamin Linus) is introduced, a mysterious man who claims to be a castaway but is believed to be one of the Others.  The mind games Henry plays on Locke, Sayid, Jack, and everyone else are a joy to watch, with Michael Emerson proving his acting chops right from the start.

I have no complaints about anything that happens in the hatch; every story related to it is awesome, and the way its mysteries further develop the characters is really powerful.  The hatch also leads to the discovery of other Dharma stations, the most memorable venture being to the “Question Mark” station.  We wouldn’t learn anything very significant about Dharma until later, but the seeds of mystery planted this season are undoubtedly cool.

Other stories don’t work so well.  The introduction of survivors from the tail section is cool at first, but fizzles out pretty fast.  Mr. Eko is an awesome, deep character, and his presence enhances the whole of Season 2.  Ana Lucia, on the other hand, is the complete opposite.  She is stupid, arrogant, mean, and unsympathetic, and drags down the whole season with her.  Even when she’s given a flashback episode, we don’t sympathize with her, and by the time Michael pumped her full of lead I, and many others, were cheering.  Libby lands right in the middle—she’s not cool, like Eko, nor despicable, like Ana Lucia.  She’s just kind of...there, and doesn’t ever do anything significant.  Bernard, on the other hand, is a great new find, but like Rose, he’s only a Guest Star, so we never see too much of him.  The fact that both Ana Lucia and Libby die by the end of the season (and Eko in the beginning of the third) makes the entire tail section story seem like a bit of a narrative dead end.

Some returning players go on questionable journeys this season.  Charlie, the lovable Rock Star scamp, is horribly bastardized this year, becoming an unlikable annoyance by the time the finale rolls around.  Hurley’s exploration of insanity is never very compelling, and Sawyer’s role in the season is restricted to hanging out on the beach and tossing out one-liners (save for a logically-challenged story where he steals all the guns).  Kate, Jin, and Sun don’t get to do that much either.  Ironically, while season two became more focused on the ensemble by moving characters other than Jack into the spotlight, it also left out large chunks of its wonderful cast along the way, and that’s my biggest complaint about the season as a whole.

All is redeemed, however, in the finale, Live Together, Die Alone.  Like all Lost finales, this one is epic in terms of narrative progression and emotional impact.  The hatch story is brought to an exhilarating conclusion, as all the conflicting ideologies come to a head.  Meanwhile, the journey the rest of the castaways go on to rescue Walt is pretty cool, and the hopelessness of the ending, where Jack and company are captured, was a bold move.  Most of the main characters get an important part to play, and the set-up for season 3 is wonderful.  But the best element of this episode is the flashbacks, centered around Desmond; Desmond had only been glimpsed in a guest role before now, but his story was so emotional, romantic, heartbreaking, and compelling that by the end of the finale, we were all in love with this cosmically misplaced Scotsman.  In fact, the introduction of Desmond is probably the single greatest feat of the show’s second season. 

Season Rating: B+
Best Episode: Live Together, Die Alone
Season 2 MVP: Mr. Eko

Season Three:

"Lost" Season 3 Poster
Oy, Season Three...the problem child of Lost.  According to most people, that is.  I friggin’ love this season, but a lot of people (including many involved with the show) cite it as the show’s weakest year, mostly due to the pacing.  Yes, it’s true, Lost did hit an all-time low in terms of pacing this year, but only in certain sections—overall, I still think season 2 had poorer pacing, and season 3 makes up for it with a better story and a firmer grasp on the cast. 

Season Three can be easily divided into two sections.  The first six episodes form a sort of mini-season, and the next sixteen form the bulk of season three—this is because, when they originally aired, the first six were broadcast in October while the rest aired from February to May.  The first six tell their own little self-contained story, so I view this as a sort of prologue to the real “meat” of the season contained in the next sixteen episodes.

The first six hours tell the story of Jack, Sawyer, and Kate’s captivity with the Others; the main narrative thrust here is that we learn Ben’s master plan.  Ben has cancer, and needs Jack, a spinal surgeon, to operate on him, so he devised this big charade to force Jack into cooperation.  By the end of episode six, Jack has started the operation, but he’s also devised a way to allow Kate and Sawyer to escape.  Meanwhile, back at the beach, Locke and company deal with some fallout from the hatch implosion and the death of Eko at the hands of the smoke monster, all while planning to save their friends.

This part of the story is actually pretty cool, and a necessary stepping stone to the next section of the larger narrative.  In particular, it sheds a lot of light on why Ben and the others did things they did in prior seasons.  However, the pacing is unacceptably slow, with the season premiere of note for its torturously slow storytelling.  These six episodes would have made a great two hour season premiere, maybe with a third hour to tell the story back at the beach...but even that would be pushing it.

The season returned in February with Not in Portland, which resolved the story of the season’s first half and jumped in to the next section of the narrative.  From here on out, I think season 3 works like gangbusters.  The pacing picks up, nearly every story is captivating, and the characters were rarely so well written or acted.  There were some lulls—after the amazing, Desmond-centric Flashes Before Your Eyes, where we learn about Desmond’s premonitions, we got Stranger in a Strange Land, regarded by Damon Lindelof and nearly every Lost viewer as the show’s worst hour.  This is where we learn about Jack’s tattoos, and the story is just as dull as it sounds. 

But that episode was the exception, not the rule.  There are lots of story threads going on here, all centered around the conflict between the Others and the Castaways.  You have Locke trying to integrate himself into the Others society by passing Ben’s trials, which includes killing his own father—a feat he accomplishes by drafting Sawyer.  The result is The Brig, one of my favorite hours of the season, where Sawyer finally gets to confront the man who ruined his life.  The story back on the beach centers around Juliet joining the castaways, and questions about her true allegiance.  Meanwhile, we also get to know some of the Others, like Ben’s daughter Alex, her boyfriend Karl, and Richard Alpert.  As things start to wrap up, a girl named Naomi parachutes onto the island and brings with her a promise of rescue for the castaways.

The most compelling story this year, however, is the relationship between Desmond and Charlie.  Desmond begins getting premonitions of Charlie’s death, and continually tries to save him, but Charlie eventually has to accept his horrible fate.  It’s hard to describe the emotional power of this story; it really is one of the most powerful arcs Lost ever accomplished, further proving Desmond’s awesomeness and redeeming Charlie’s character after his bastardization in season 2. 

In fact, every character who fell by the wayside in season 2 is back with a vengeance here.  Jin and Sun get back in the spotlight once Sun’s pregnancy becomes a prominent story, culminating in the excellent episode D.O.C..  Sawyer, reduced to hanging out on the beach the year before, gets his groove back by strangling his namesake to death with a chain in The Brig.  Kate plays a prominent role in the battle with the Others, and Claire also gets a little more to do this time around.  Then there’s Hurley, who languishes in the background for a while before bursting into the foreground in Tricia Tanaka is Dead, one of my all time favorite episodes.  Some consider it filler, but it’s really just an excellent hour of character development.  Hurley finds an old Dharma bus, and gets a reluctant Sawyer, Jin, and Charlie to help him get it running.  The way all these character arcs converge at this one event is really poignant, and also provides for plenty of hilarity.

Season 3 had an absolutely astounding handle on the characters, finishing the show’s transformation into a full-time ensemble show.  I love how each and every character is used, and since this was the last season to incorporate traditional flashbacks, the final flashback stories are all pretty cool (though the ones in the first half of the season are uniformly lame).  We learned how Locke got paralyzed, saw some dark moments in Claire’s past, Kate tried reuniting with her mother, and Charlie listed his greatest hits.  The final flashback stories were some of the best of the bunch.

Now, don’t worry...I didn’t forget about the elephant in the room.  I’m droning on and on about the great characters, but I’ve failed to mention Nikki and Paolo, characters so repulsive to the fandom that the writers buried them alive.  In truth, I never hated Nikki and Paolo like the majority of the fandom did; they weren’t a fraction as bad as Ana Lucia.  But their inclusion felt random and awkward, and they never played an important role.  And unlike most fans, I loved Exposé, their first centric-episode and their last appearance on the show.  I felt the hour was a winking nod to how poorly received the characters were and a nice trip down memory lane from an alternate point of view.  In the end, Nikki and Paolo didn’t hurt season 3 in any noticeable way, but their legacy as evil party-killers has been blown way out of proportion.  I’m guessing the casual viewer doesn’t even remember them. 

Whatever sins Season 3 may have committed, all are absolved in the finale, Through the Looking Glass, which may be the most important episode in all six seasons of Lost.  It resolves much of what came before and lays the foundations for everything that came next.  This the final battle with Ben and the Others; the castaways blow up a good number of the Others, sending the rest of them into hiding at the Temple, and Ben is captured, beaten, and tied up.  It’s a hugely satisfying ending to the Season 3 story, but also brings many story threads from years 1 and 2 to a close as well.

And, of course, there’s the ending.  I have never witnessed a better twist or cliffhanger in dramatic television than the revelation of the flash-forward at the end of Season 3.  I still get the chills watching that final scene, and I quote the line “We have to go baaaaack!!!” at least once a week.

Through the Looking Glass is everything Season 3 did right distilled into one perfect episode; many fans will disagree, but I think Season 3 did a lot right, and the few faults it had don’t detract from the overall experience.  This was the season that really got me hooked on Lost, and made me decide to write the kind of material you are reading right now.

Season Rating: A-
Best Episode: Through the Looking Glass
Season 3 MVPs: Charlie Pace and Desmond Hume

Season Four:

"Lost" Season 4 Poster
This was the first season I wrote about, back in 2008, and the experience was basically a baptism by fire.  Trying to write weekly analyses of a show like Lost is always a mind-bending experience, but using Season Four as my first ever TV-blogging adventure was akin to doing the high dive without ever having swam before.  And you know what?  It was the most enjoyable writing experience of my life so far.  Looking back on those early Lost articles, I get a little embarrassed; many are less than two-pages long and I wasn’t nearly in depth with the episodes as I am now.  But I was learning by experience, and it was such great fun, especially because there’s no doubt in my mind that the fourth season of Lost was the show’s best year.

My favorite thing about this season is the narrative—it’s a really cool piece of “full circle” storytelling, told out of order like a season-long version of Pulp Fiction.  The basis of the story this year is that, when the freighter arrives, the castaways become divided about what to do.  Jack believes the freighter will provide salvation, but Locke foresees damnation, and the two leaders form separate groups.  The rest of the season is about the coming battle between the freighter folk and the castaways, along with Jack’s attempts to get his people rescued by any means necessary.

But that’s just what happens on the island.  Flash-forwards are the name of the game this season, and when the episodes first aired, this narrative device made the show more fascinating to watch than it ever had been before, or ever would be, for that matter.  Each week, the flash-forwards would give us some new piece of information about events that had yet to transpire on the island, giving viewers plenty to theorize about.  When those referenced events came to pass on the island, it was surreal and so, so cool.  I fondly remember how in The Shape of Things to Come, a flash-forward shows Ben lying in the Tunisian desert with a cut on his arm, wearing a parka.  In the season finale, There’s No Place Like Home, we see Ben don the parka, which was cool enough to begin with, but then he falls down into the icy donkey-wheel chamber, slicing his arm.  “There’s the cut!” I remember shouting at the TV in my state of excitement.  Moments like this define Season 4, but that wasn’t the only kind of fun the flash-forward offered.  Figuring out how the flash-forwards all fit together chronologically was quite a puzzle, but a really engaging one intellectually.  This year, Lost wasn’t just television.  It was an experience.

Season 4 holds up just as well on repeat viewings, because apart from the obvious shock-and-awe effect of the flash-forwards, this narrative device also allowed the writers to cram a helluva lot of story in a much shorter span of time.  Once the Oceanic Six actually left the island in the season finale, the writers were able to jump three years ahead without explaining what transpired in the interim.  That story had already been told earlier on, and since it was told out of order and interspersed with events from the present, it automatically became more fascinating and compelling.

The season is only fourteen hours long, but it’s a huge, sprawling epic dense with great new characters, returning favorites at their all time best, and plenty of astounding narrative twists.  I could write about this season for another twenty pages and never run out of things to talk about—don’t even get me started on how great The Constant is—but we’ll just take a look at the highlights. 

First off, I really, really love Ben’s story this season.  He’s not the antagonist he was last year, instead working alongside Locke to try to protect the island from the Freighter folk.  Thus, Ben has to reveal to Locke the identity of their enemy, Charles Widmore, and we learn about their long-standing conflict.  This culminates in the brutal murder of Ben’s daughter Alex, which occurs in the middle of one of the show’s deadliest and most powerful hours, The Shape of Things to Come.  This was probably the most shocking, terrifying moment Lost had ever produced up to that point, but it was Michael Emerson’s intensely brilliant performance that made audiences sympathetic to a man who, one year earlier, had been the Big Bad.  Ben’s story just gets better from there, as he helps Locke move the island by turning the Donkey Wheel and getting zapped far away from the place he had so long called home. 

Charles Widmore and his team on the freighter made for great antagonists, with mercenary Martin Keamy being the scariest of them all.  Kevin Durand gave a great, unhinged performance as this crazy psychopath, and by the time Ben got around to stabbing the life out of this bastard, I think most viewers were cheering. 

The threat the Freighter crew poses rises throughout the season, like a swirling tornado of chaos.  That chaos, of course, allows Jack the opportunity to get himself and five others off the island, despite Locke’s insistence that he stay put.  That’s just one of the cool events that happens in the finale, There’s No Place Like Home, one of the wildest and most jam-packed episodes Lost ever produced. 

There’s so, so much more to talk about—I could happily write a book on Season Four and consider it time well spent—but I think you get the picture.  What I love so much about this season is the story, and how epic a narrative it weaves in 14 short hours.  Unlike other seasons, there are no narrative dead ends.  Everything is tied off and comes full circle, and there’s such a huge sense of movement from the start of the season to the finale.  My only complaint is that Michael Dawson, who returns after his absence in Season 3, is underused, though I recognize that this was a casualty of the writer’s strike that robbed the season of three hours of storytelling.  Even with that little hiccup, Season 4 stands as my favorite year of the series, and it’s the one I revisit most frequently.  Are you not sold yet?  Go watch The Constant again, then come back and try to refute my claims...
Season Rating: A+
Best Episode: The Constant
Season 4 MVP: Benjamin Linus

Season Five:

"Lost" Season 5 Poster
Also known as the year that separated the men from the boys, the true fans from the casual viewers.  This season, after years of flirting with the concept, Lost came out of the closet as a full-on Sci-Fi show, and in my mind, that just made it all the more awesome.  Time-travel, a concept hinted at in Desmond-centric episodes Flashes Before Your Eyes and The Constant, became the name of the game this season, and the level of complexity in the storytelling reached new, dizzying heights.  As such, many casual viewers abandoned ship, but those hardcore fans that remained realized that this really was just a natural progression for the show, and the vast majority of us loved this season to death.

The story is told out of order in more ways than one; not only is time travel a big component to the story, but chunks of story are still told out of chronological order.  At the beginning, there are two main narratives.  The first takes place in 2007, three years after the Oceanic Six escaped the island, and shortly after Locke left the island to talk to each one of the Six.  Jack and Ben join forces to try to convince everyone else to return to the island with them, but they’re on a short timetable, with only a few days before the island moves again.  The other part of the narrative is the story leading up to this—the story of how John Locke escaped the island and came to talk to each of the Six.  This all happens on the island, but in a number of different time periods, as the island keeps “flashing” through time, much to the annoyance of Sawyer, whose “Son of a Bit**” count reaches an all time high.

Both stories are cool, but the island narrative has the edge for containing all the time travel goodness and centering around the best characters, like Locke, Sawyer, Juliet, and Daniel Faraday.  Speaking of Faraday, he emerges as an incredibly awesome character this year.  I loved him and Jeremy Davies’ strange, detached performance in Season 4, but Davies and the writers really step up their game here to make Daniel a truly fascinating creation.  Daniel is especially fun to watch when he’s forced to try to explain time travel in simple terms people like Sawyer—and the audience—can understand.

In the midst of all this confusion, writing the column became really fun, intense, and above all challenging, but if I’m not mistaken it was also during this time that I experienced the highest hit counts as casual viewers sought explanations that would make sense of the confusing narrative.  Staying up until midnight writing about a geeky TV show had never been so rewarding.

Anyway, the stories converge at the midway point in the season, in a two-parter of sorts, 316 and The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham.  316 explains how the Oceanic Six got back to the island, while Bentham details the nature of Locke’s mainland mission and reveals the identity of his killer—Bejamin Linus.  The episodes also jump us into the next section of the story, which gets a little simpler in some ways and a hell of a lot more complex in others.  Sawyer, Juliet, Miles, Daniel, and Jin were all left in 1974 after Locke left the island, and got cozy with the Dharma Initiative.  Three years pass for them, and in 1977, Jack, Kate, Hurley, and Sayid all show up, having been zapped to the past in the Ajira crash.  The rest of the narrative occurs in 2007, where the Ajira flight crashed and Locke was resurrected...well, that’s what we thought at the time, at least.

The story in 1977 is incredibly cool to watch, and we learn a lot about the Dharma Initiative and the nature of the Island.  But it’s the character dynamics that really make this story a winner.  Sawyer emerges as a protagonist more heroic than Jack, and his relationship with Juliet was a home run from the moment we saw them as a couple.  But there’s also the newly discovered friendship between Sawyer and Miles, the strained dynamics between Sawyer and Jack, and the relationships between the castaways and the Dharama folk.  It’s all fascinating to watch unfold.  The 2007 story isn’t as compelling, unless it involves Ben and Locke; Michael Emerson and Terry O’Quinn continue their contest to see which person is the superior actor, and the result is, once again, an unbreakable tie.      

Despite the fact that the narrative occurs in just two timelines here, things don’t get any less confusing.  Having long ago abandoned the traditional flashback structure, the show starts presenting events out of order, revealing new details from the past we didn’t think we’d ever see.  Dead is Dead is a good example of this.  A Ben episode, half of the story takes place in the past, but not in one set time period like a traditional flashback.  It jumps all around from the day Ben kidnaps Alex to the present, just days before he returned to the island.  Once more, the storytelling feels like Pulp Fiction, but on steroids...and with smoke monsters!

The season culminates with two equally compelling final plots; Jack decides to blow up a Hydrogen Bomb at the Swan station (long story, don’t ask), and Locke thinks it wise to go on an adventure to kill Jacob (even longer story—literally, it goes back 2000 years).  Both characters technically do what they set out to do, but neither could have foretold the consequences.  The excellent 2-hour finale, The Incident, concludes with a now infamous cliffhanger: Juliet detonating the bomb and a flash cut to white.

Writing about Season 5 is akin to throwing darts at a board being shaken in all direction whilst blindfolded and spinning around in a circle.  The story is complex, and one could never hope to truly sum up the season with mere words.  Still, in all this complexity, the focus on the characters is never, ever lost, not even for a second, making for one of the show’s most rewarding seasons.  In fact, I think Season 5 is almost as good as Season 4, falling short only because of a few small narrative dead ends.  Nevertheless, together they form the strongest creative period in the show’s history, and expectations couldn’t have been higher for the sixth and final season...

Season Rating: A+
Best Episode: The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham
Season 5 MVP: James “Sawyer” Ford

Season Six:

And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make...

"Lost" Season 6 Poster
Okay, that wasn’t exactly the message of the show’s final season, but this certainly was “the end.”  It seemed to many that the final season would define Lost, and the entire show would live or die by the quality of the last batch of episodes.  I always found that to be ridiculous—no matter how bad the sixth season could have turned out, it would never ruin fond memories of the Oceanic Six story in Season Four or the time travelling antics of Season Five.  Luckily, however, Season Six turned out just fine.  This was not the greatest season of Lost, nor was it the worst.  It had faults here and there, but it did what it set out to do in a spectacular fashion: resolve the story.  In fact, season six works better as a resolution to the other five seasons rather than its own stand-alone entity.  This isn’t like Season Four, which tells its own awesome stand-alone narrative.  Almost everything here is in service to the larger, six-year story, which is fine by me.  That just means that Season Six doesn’t stand on its own as clearly as some of the other seasons. 

The main thrust of the narrative this year is about defeating the Man in Black, Jacob’s mysterious nemesis introduced in The Incident and now possessing the form of John Locke.  Through this battle, tons of information is revealed about the island’s past (also known as ‘answers’), and the entirety of the series is put in clearer context.  The story takes place in 2007, picking up after the death of Jacob, an event which brought the castaways residing in 1977 to the present day.  The first few episodes take place in the “Temple,” first hinted at in Season 3 but visited here for the first time, and contrary to popular belief, this story did provide us with some answers (like where Cindy and the other people from the tail section wound up). 

However, it also resulted in a few too many narrative dead ends for my taste.  We never really learned anything about what happened to Sayid in the pool, and while I loved Hiroyuki Sanada as Dogen, the character’s incessantly mysterious speeches ultimately confused audiences.  I, personally, was able to understand the entire concept behind “the infection,” and everything Dogen implied about it and the Man in Black, but the number of people still confused about Dogen’s words proves that the writers could have clarified these things a bit more.  Once a bloody massacre by Sayid and Smokey force the characters to vacate the temple, however, the whole island becomes a battle ground for the gargantuan conflict and the season quickly picks up steam.

Giving us a new, incredibly scary antagonist in the form of Darth Locke (aka Smokey or the Man in Black) really gave the show a new, thrilling, apocalyptic vibe.  Lost had never had this nefarious or creepy an antagonist before, and much of the character’s power is due to the brilliant performance by Terry O’Quinn.  I cannot possibly stress enough how amazing O’Quinn was this year, especially considering that the man basically topped himself every season for five years running before switching characters here at the end.  He was creepy, threatening, and downright scary at times. 

Nearly every other major character got cool stories and great acting moments as well, but the MVP this year is Jack, and I never thought I’d actually say that.  From Season One onwards, Jack was never as interesting as other members of the ensemble, and often he was downright despicable thanks to his incessant Messiah complex.  But this year, Jack went on a journey of enlightenment that transformed him into the protagonists the writers always wanted him to be.  Jack realized the mistakes he made in the past, and finally reconciled to two warring aspects of his personality: faith and science.  The Jack of Season 5 could never have made me tear up at the final moments of the series, where Jack lays down to die, but after watching Jack go on this incredible journey, I think we all needed a box of hankeys on standby.

Ben also got some deserved redemption at the end of the journey, and his own standout episode, Dr. Linus.  Desmond’s story didn’t start until episode 10, but when it did, it was amazing.  We also got to know characters like Richard better, and old favorites like Sawyer, Hurley, and Sayid all got to do their part in the action as well.  Miles and Frank never contributed a whole lot to the story, but their presence was appreciated, if only for comic relief (and Frank did get to fly the plane at the very end). 

However, some characters weren’t treated as kindly as they should have been.  Claire, absent since season four, returned this season accompanied by a barrage of hype.  We were told she was immensely important to the story and would play a big role in the final season.  That never really panned out.  We did learn where she was during her season 5 absence, and in the end, no questions were left dangling concerning Claire.  Still, I can’t help but feel underwhelmed.  When she did have screen time, Emile de Ravin was immensely impressive in the “crazy mother” role, and her story was pretty fascinating.  But she only appeared intermittently, and when all is said and done, she never had a big impact on the story.  I would have liked to have seen the writers explore the “crazy mother” aspect of the character a little more, and maybe give us a little more resolution to her relationship with Darth Locke.  It didn’t hurt the season hugely, but if nits must be picked, then this is the elephant in the room.

Speaking of the elephant in the room, thee season started by introducing us to, as Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse dubbed it, the “sideways” world, where Oceanic 815 landed safely in L.A. and the island had sunk to the bottom of the ocean.  In the finale, the sideways world was revealed to be a dimension between this life and the next, where the survivors of the crash could “find each other” before moving on to the next life. 

Not everybody loved the sideways story, and I respect that, but I felt it worked beautifully.  More than beautifully—I thought the implementation of the sideways world was one of the greatest narrative concepts of all time, even before we found out the truth about the alternate reality.  The revelation of the world’s true nature was astoundingly satisfying, because while it provides a good, solid answer, it also makes the entire sideways arc interpretive.  Every second of those sideways stories can mean something different to every viewer.  I’m still figuring out what I think the story was saying to me, and so far I’ve come to this conclusion: this mystical purgatory dimension wasn’t there to allow the castaways to atone for prior sins or “fix” their lives, but a place where they could go through the same changes and reach the same state of enlightenment they found before death, this time free of the island’s influence.  It was a place where they could sort out how they changed in life and who they really were before “moving on.”  At the same time, it was a place where they could find loved ones and be with the people they were robbed of in life.

It’s such an emotional story, and almost all of it worked beautifully.  We didn’t know what the sideways world was until the very end, but long before that, I dug the hell out of these stories.  As I discussed earlier, Season 1 rocked due to its emphasis on discovery—as the characters explored and discovered the island, we, the viewers, got to explore and discover them.  Meeting those characters for the first time was an enthralling experience, and with the flash-sideways, Cuse and Lindelof found a way for us to meet these people for the first time again.  Season six felt a lot like season one in that way, where each sideways scene had some new revelation about the characters we know and love.  In another sense, though, these stories weren’t about showing us what was different in the sideways dimension.  We were really seeing what was the same, re-analyzing how these characters have grown and changed through a new perspective, and that, for me, is why this storytelling device worked so amazingly well.

Apart from a few nitpicks, I thought the final season was pretty damn spectacular.  As always, some hours were stronger than others, and not every story got the resolution it deserved.  But, due in large part to the amazing finale, the season did work as a whole, and capped off the saga of Lost in ways better than I had hoped.  The meaning and merits of season six will be debated as long as people watch this series, but I stand firm in my opinion that it was a wonderful conclusion to a fantastic show.

Season Rating: A
Best Episode: The End
Season 6 MVP: Jack Shepherd

The Music of “Lost”

Here, at the end of our discussions of Lost, I wanted to shine a light on an aspect of the series I feel that I and many other have never given enough attention to: the music.  I am among a large contingent of thinkers who believe that Michael Giacchino’s masterful soundtrack for Lost is the single best musical score in TV history.  Think back to every moment in the six years of Lost that you loved: the revelation that Locke was in a wheelchair; Jack’s “live together, die alone” speech; Boone’s death; Charlie’s death; the Oceanic Six arriving home; Desmond calling Penny on the phone in the freighter; Sawyer desperately trying to save Juliet’s life; the characters meeting in the Church, preparing to “move on” to the next life.  Each one of these moments were profoundly emotional experiences, but they would have been nothing without Michael Giacchino’s score.  When I think of Charlie’s death, or of scenes with Desmond and Penny, the musical motifs Giacchino conjured up rush into my mind.  For six years, the music connected me to the world of Lost more than any other single element.

Composer Michael Giacchino
When the Pilot episode aired, Michael Giacchino was a virtually unknown composer, having mostly written music for video games and J.J. Abrams’ Alias.  That was 2004.  Today, he is an Oscar winning composer and has written the scores for a number of high profile feature films, including The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Star Trek, and Up, among numerous others.  I highly recommend listening to all his work—it’s uniformly breathtaking—but in all that time, in the chaos of all the scores he was writing, he never gave up on Lost, and the music simply got better as the show went along.  To this day, I still think the score for Lost stands as Giacchino’s greatest musical accomplishment.

Like many of the best film composers, Giacchino relies heavily on themes and motifs in his music.  Nearly every character on the show has a distinctive theme, from Ben’s dark and brooding somber melody to Hurley’s upbeat and excited parade music.  These themes always gave us an insight into the minds of the characters, complementing the performances perfectly. 

But the most famous Lost themes aren’t character based, but instead center around situations.  The most iconic piece of music from Lost is the “life and death” motif, first introduced when Jack gives his “Live Together, Die Alone” speech in the episode White Rabbit.  This motif utilizes the deep tones of a solo Cello and a slow tempo to fully convey the haunting beauty of the music.  The theme went on to encompass so much more than just Jack’s speech—nearly every major character death was accompanied by this music, but it was played alongside happier moments as well.  No matter what, when this music swelled through the speakers, tears were shed by the viewer.  Even listening to it out of context, it affects me powerfully.  I think the theme was best used on two occasions.  First, in the episode Do No Harm, it is played in the closing scenes, as Boone dies and Aaron is born, truly earning the motif its title, “Life and Death.”  Second, a fuller, richer, fully orchestral version of the theme was used in the last moments of the series, as the castaways reunite in the Church and Jack lays down to die.  For me, at least fifty percent of the power of the final scene of the show comes from Giacchino’s grandiose, intensely emotional arrangement of this motif.

The other notable theme doesn’t have a common name, though I refer to it as the “travel music.”  Like “Life and Death,” it is dominated by low strings, and depending on when it is used, its tempo can be extremely fast or methodically slow.  It’s usually played when the characters are going on a trek across the island, and I find that whenever it is used, it builds and builds, becoming bigger, cooler, and even catchier with each passing note.  Sometimes, like in the closing moments of the episode Follow the Leader, it used in a more menacing way, with a slower tempo, and as it builds your heart threatens to skip a beat.  This, personally, might be my favorite bit of music from Lost, seeing as I tend to hum it on a daily basis.

There are too many great themes to talk about, but the most distinctive musical signature from Lost is the sudden brass crescendo that many pieces of music culminate in before ending in a sudden, cacophonous fall-off.  Think of any cliffhanger throughout the six seasons of Lost—Jack and Locke staring down the Hatch shaft, Jack yelling “We have to go back!”, Locke lying dead in the coffin, etc—each and every one of those moments culminated in this distinctive bit of musical trickery.  Hell, most act breaks in the series end with this little motif.  If you’ve watched Lost, you’re familiar with this, and it never failed to get the blood pumping.

Like the show itself, the power of Giacchino’s music can never be summed up in words.  It’s art, plain and simple, creating emotions in the viewer that a music-free show never could.  On the bonus features to the fourth season DVD set, a lengthily featurette is devoted to the music, and Giacchino explains his approach to film and television scoring.  I don’t have the exact quote, but in summary, he explained that good music doesn’t tell you how to feel.  Good music takes the emotions the narrative conjures up inside of you and reproduces those emotions sonically.  Good music is emotion personified in sound.

I could never hope to say it better myself; this was Giacchino’s goal in scoring Lost, and he achieved it beautifully.  Individual soundtracks to the first five seasons of Lost have been released on CD, and I highly recommend all five of them.  They all contain a number of unique new themes in addition to the returning ones, plus everything in between, and are uniformly excellent listening experiences.  But if you have to buy just one, then I’d recommend the Season Four soundtrack; of all five, this one is the most stirring, because of the beautiful “Oceanic Six” motif that is woven throughout the season’s music.  The Season Six soundtrack has yet to be released, but I hope it includes a second disc with the full, uncut soundtrack to The End, because of all the 121 episodes of Lost, the finale had the best score.  Giacchino, like the show itself, went out on top, one final example of how the music defined Lost.

The Message of “Lost”

Now that we’ve arrived at the end, we can look back on Lost as a complete story and ask ourselves “what was this show trying to say?”  It’s a discussion that will continue for as long as people watch the show, and in my mind Lost was about many different things, and throughout the six seasons it conveyed a multitude of poignant messages.  But if I had distill Lost down to one core concept, one defining message the explains what the show was really all about, I would use just one word:

Redemption.

From start to finish, no other word better describes the message of Lost.  Every single survivor of Oceanic 815 came to the island a broken person, many of them with dark sins in their past, souls in dire need of some salvation.  The ones who had led good lives before landing on the island ultimately did bad things over the course of the show that demanded redemption later on. 

Jack was mostly a good person, but back in the real world his failure to forgive his father ultimately forced the old man to embrace sweet death in the bottom of a whisky bottle, and on the island, Jack became an increasingly dark person.  Kate murdered her abusive father and spent much of her life on the run, even getting her one true love killed in her exploits.  Sawyer was a con-artist and a killer.  Locke’s refusal to let go of past pain cost him the love of his life.  Jin was an oppressive husband, and Sun cheated on him.  Sayid was a torturer in the Iraqi army.  Charlie was a heroin addict.  Claire got her mother into a coma in a car accident.  Not even Hurley had a clean past—he refused to look on the bright side of life and was determined to only look at the dark spots in what was a truly prosperous existence. 

Over the course of the series, all of these characters earned their redemption.  Jack became a man of faith and saved the island by sacrificing his life.  Kate and Sawyer both became better people and stronger leaders for their experiences.  Locke found a way to let go of his prior trauma and became an enlightened man.  Jin and Sun reconciled.  Sayid’s journey was akin to a roller coaster, but his final sacrifice proved him a good man at heart.  Charlie got clean and, in the end, made the ultimate sacrifice.  Claire went through even darker periods after her seduction by Darth Locke, but ultimately made the right choices at the end of the story.  And do I need to say anything more about Hurley?

These are only the characters we met in Season One; so many new people were introduced along the way, and all of their arcs revolved around redemption.  Benjamin Linus had the most to make up for, while people like Richard had smaller, accidental sins in their past that still haunted them in the present.  Everybody’s favorite temporally displaced Scotsman, Desmond, was a coward on the mainland, running away even from his eternal love Penny, and he went through more than his fair share of redemption before the end.  Off the top of my head, the only character without some sin in their past was Frank Lapidus, but I’m sure if we’d gotten a flashback episode for him we would have witnessed him drowning a puppy or some such terror.

Throughout the six seasons of Lost, in the midst of all the changes in narrative styles, despite the numerous deaths and all the new characters, no matter how much time travel was involved or how many times Smokey appeared, one thing was always a constant presence: redemption.  At its heart, the message of Lost is simple.  None of us are perfect, and we’re all very different, but there’s one thing every human being carries the capacity for, and that’s redemption.  Even a villain like Charles Widmore tried redeeming himself before being gunned down by Ben, and I believe the main purpose of the Man in Black was to serve as a cautionary tale to those who reject redemptive opportunities and instead follow a scornful path.

At the end of the final episode, when everyone gathers in the Church after dying, what they are celebrating is redemption.  They all made it through the journey, and they all became better through the experience.  Some of them needed time in the sideways world to sort out the particulars of their redemptive arcs, but by the end, “moving on” meant completing their redemption.  And when they had done so, they passed into the blinding white light and left this world, never to return.

I don’t read that scene as religious propaganda, though it does contain a spiritual bent.  Lindelof and Cuse weren’t trying to say that, when we die, we get to live our lives a second time until a crazy Scotsman comes to enlighten us and take us to heaven.  The function of the sideways story was to hammer home the message of the show, the eternal message of the power of redemption.  We all know we eventually have to die, so we all can and should prepare for that in the best way we can.  This was the metaphor of the Sideways story—the castaways prepared to move on by creating this new world, and doing their lives over so that they could ‘let go’ and ‘move on,’ complete the redemption they began in life, and then go into the light happy and content.  But all we as humans have control over is this life; once its over, none of us know what comes next.  That doesn’t mean we can’t do the best we can before the end, strive for redemption if we require it and live the best lives possible.  And if we accomplish this, then we, like the castaways, can go into the light happy and content.

In this way, I feel like Lost, even in its moments of unfathomable sadness and despair, was a life-affirming piece of fiction, because the story revolved around something so human and so eternal.  Redemption is a universal, indestructible concept, much like the “light” Jacob (then Jack, then Hurley) was tasked with protecting.  In fact, the light could have been a visual representation of the concept of redemption, a personification of how important the idea is to the masterminds behind the series. 

When you get down to it, Lost was never about time travel, or alternate realities, or smoke monsters, or polar bears, or ancient Egyptian statues, or evil organizations with names taken from Buddhist teachings.  It wasn’t about pushing a button every 108 minutes, or about turning a Frozen Donkey Wheel and ending up in the Tunisian desert, nor even about people surviving on the island.  For all its complexities, for all the theorizing I and many other have spent years writing about, Lost boiled down to something very simple, extremely universal, and an integral part of the human condition.

In a word, Lost was about redemption. 


6 comments:

  1. Very well written, and couldn't really agree more. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I just read this today...my eyed kinda teared up and goose pimples run up my arms. What a brilliant tribute to the first show, I too, feel in love with. I bought the complete set last year and have never been able to bring myself to start watching again. After reading this, I'm going to start tonight with episode one!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great article. I really enjoyed reading this.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This is a brilliant read. A complete summary of the entire epic that is LOST. My personal favorite season was 2. I agree with all the flaws you pointed out but all the imagery it provided is as iconic as it comes and will be with me forever.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I really enjoyed reading this, so thanks!! I never watched Lost when it was on TV, so I just watched all six seasons, start to finish in the last couple of weeks. I was so happy that I didn't have to wait months & months for new seasons!! :-) Now I will go back and watch the episodes you highlighted as the best!! Thanks again.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Delhi is home to knowledge seekers from all over India and also outside, who come to pursue various degree and diploma programs. There are various Top Acting Colleges in Delhi and these Acting Institues in Delhi are more preffered as they provides them various facilites to become a good animator. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete